Effects of Land Use on the Climate of the United States
- Cite this article as:
- Bonan, G.B. Climatic Change (1997) 37: 449. doi:10.1023/A:1005305708775
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Land use practices have replaced much of the natural needleleaf evergreen, broadleaf deciduous, and mixed forests of the Eastern United States with crops. To a lesser extent, the natural grasslands in the Central United States have also been replaced with crops. Simulations with a land surface process model coupled to an atmospheric general circulation model show that the climate of the United States with modern vegetation is significantly different from that with natural vegetation. Three important climate signals caused by modern vegetation are: (1) 1 °C cooling over the Eastern United States and 1 °C warming over the Western United States in spring; (2) summer cooling of up to 2 °C over a wide region of the Central United States; and (3) moistening of the near-surface atmosphere by 0.5 to 1.5 g kg-1over much of the United States in spring and summer. Although individual months show large, statistically significant differences in precipitation due to land-use practices, these differences average out over the course of the 3-month seasons. These changes in surface temperature and moisture extend well into the atmosphere, up to 500 mb, and affect the boundary layer and atmospheric circulation. The altered climate is due to reduced surface roughness, reduced leaf and stem area index, reduced stomatal resistance, and increased surface albedo with modern vegetation compared to natural vegetation. The climate change caused by land use practices is comparable to other well known anthropogenic climate forcings. For example, it would take 100 to 175 years at the current, observed rate of summer warming over the United States to offset the cooling from deforestation. The summer sulfate aerosol forcing completely offsets the greenhouse forcing over the Eastern United States. Similarly, the climatic effect of North American deforestation, with extensive summer cooling, further offsets the greenhouse forcing.